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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Booming Economy Jams Roads to Finland, Baltics

ReutersTruckers talking as their vehicles stand in line at the Russian-Latvian border.
VAALIMAA, Finland — Next time you complain about waiting in a line, spare a thought for Pavel.

He has parked his truck in a line stretching five kilometers — and this is a good day at the Finnish-Russian border.

Russia's economy is booming, and its hunger for new cars, televisions and machinery means the transit routes through Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are clogged with trucks.

Because of this surging, transborder traffic, Finland is now as large a trading partner for Russia as the United States, but customs posts on the border are struggling to cope.

Pavel makes a return trip to Finland once a week: This time it was with a truck full of electronic equipment for Moscow.

Two weeks ago, he spent 48 hours waiting to get back home. Last winter, the lines stretched for more than 60 kilometers. While the vehicles are stuck at the border, retailers in Russia and the transport firms are losing money, and local people are scared to drive on the roads with one lane blocked by trucks.

The Finns blame the Russians for the lines, which are also a problem in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

"Last year, we had queues on 300 days," said Mika Poutiainen, head of Finnish customs at Vaalimaa, 185 kilometers east of Helsinki.

Vaalimaa is Finland's busiest border crossing to Russia, dealing with 700 to 800 trucks per day. Poutiainen says Finnish customs could double the amount of trucks that pass through because processing export papers takes only a couple of minutes.

"But because of the different kinds of procedures … the limit is set by the Russian side," he said.

Russians prefer to import goods through Finland because Russian harbors near St. Petersburg do not have enough unloading equipment or warehouses, and to minimize theft. The amount of goods imported through Finland has doubled since 2002 to about 3 million tons in 2006, and the Russian Transportation Ministry admits that its officials cannot handle the growing number of vehicles.

"Crossing points cannot manage as they are not big enough," a ministry spokeswoman said. Finland's transport minister says Russia could do more.

"They have promised to cut the number of officials [at the border] from seven to two. And they should also increase the number of staff," Anu Vehvilainen said.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who met President Vladimir Putin at the end of September, said Russia had made decisions that would help improve border traffic but that it had not carried them out fully.

Earlier this month, the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called for Brussels to raise the problems at border crossings at the next European Union-Russia Summit.

Latvia has lines of 700 to 1,000 trucks regularly waiting at the two main crossing points to Russia, and processing takes 60 to 72 hours.